The Interior Ministry has struck a deal with China to buy 200 firetrucks this year, nearly doubling Cambodia’s current fleet in a bid to better serve the country’s rural reaches, officials said on Monday.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced the deal at a ceremony in Phnom Penh marking the country’s first National Fire Fighting and Prevention Day but made no mention of how much the trucks would cost.
“The government has ordered 200 more firetrucks in addition to the 210 firetrucks we have now in order to help villagers quickly avoid risks and tragedy,” Mr. Kheng said. “However, fires still happen…especially because of incorrect electric cable connections and the careless use of incense, cooking fires, etc.”
The minister said there were 590 accidental fires—not including forest fires—in the country last year, 76 more than the year before. He said last year’s fires killed 35 people and injured 25.
Neth Vantha, head of the National Police force’s fire department, said the deal was struck last year but that he did not know how much the trucks would cost. He said the trucks were made by Isuzu, a Japanese company, and would arrive in three installments over the course of the year.
Unlike about a quarter of the current fleet, Mr. Vantha added, none would be privatized and all would be stationed outside of Phnom Penh.
“The 200 [new] firetrucks are not for Phnom Penh,” he said. “We will give them to the districts facing fires and the districts far from the provincial capitals, because right now the districts do not have firetrucks so we have to spend many hours sending trucks there.”
The new trucks will need new crews, which Mr. Vantha said would be drawn from some of the 4,500 new police officers recently hired by the Interior Ministry.
The country’s fire department is often criticized for taking too long to respond to fires and for demanding money from residents to put out a blaze when they arrive.
Paul Hurford, managing director of FireSafe Cambodia, which works with the government in fire response training and recovery, said the new trucks—especially those stationed outside the provincial capitals—would help the situation, to an extent.
“Any increase in equipment and resources is helpful, but it’s not necessarily a solution to the problems we’re facing at the moment,” he said, citing the need for more training and personnel, as well as improved fire safety standards and community awareness.
“It’s a positive step, but one small factor,” he said.
Mr. Hurford said it was also important that the trucks be fit for their purpose, noting that some of the vehicles in the current fleet were either short on water capacity or too large to maneuver narrow urban streets.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)